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Queues of passengers waiting to board trains at María Zambrano station Ñito Salas
Trains on the Malaga-Madrid line suffer most delays in Spain
Transport

Trains on the Malaga-Madrid line suffer most delays in Spain

The poor results mean planes are once again gaining ground over rail on this route

Ignacio Lillo

Malaga

Monday, 20 May 2024, 14:22

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The high-speed train line between Malaga and Madrid is the one with the most delays in Spain, according to a new report.

The National Commission for Markets and Competition's (CNMC ) study, which refers to data from Adif and Adif Alta Velocidad, reveals delays of more than 15 minutes, with the Malaga connection in the lead with 8.6% of trains delayed last year. The figures are getting worse as in 2022 they were half, 3.9%; and in 2019 only 1.6%.

Following Malaga is the Granada-Madrid route, with 8.5% of services affected by delays of a quarter of an hour or more. It is followed by Seville (7.1%) and León (7%). At the other end of the scale, the best performers are Levante (4.8%) and Barcelona (5.6%).

The CNMC warns about the loss of competitiveness of high-speed trains, due to the decrease in reliability and punctuality, and this favours competition by air, which for years played a secondary role. "Rail has lost eight percentage points of share against air transport in the Madrid-Malaga route", where, despite the increase in rail passengers (+25%), the increase in air passengers was twice as high as the increase in train passengers.

In fact, among the major national routes, the one linking the Costa del Sol with the Spanish capital is the one with the lowest share of rail compared to air travel, with 78%, compared to 93% in Valencia, 87% in Seville and Alicante and 82% in Barcelona. The situation in Malaga breaks with the national trend, where the higher number of passengers on routes with rail competition has taken the modal share of rail versus air to 85% on average.

Why?

When analysing the causes of this loss of quality, the CNMC said competition has increased traffic on the high-speed routes, "which means a greater challenge in the management of the network and the punctuality of services".

The number of trains delayed by more than 15 minutes on commercial services has increased by five percentage points, and the average delay time has increased by 21% in 2023 compared to 2019 (19% more compared to 2022). "Punctuality, measured in number of late trains, has worsened on all routes, especially on the southern route," the Commission said.

As for the blame, it is shared between the operators (Renfe and Iryo, in the case of Malaga) and the track manager (Adif). Although there is no specific data for the Malaga-Madrid route, 63% of delayed trains in Spain in general are due to causes for which the railway companies are responsible, either because of problems with the rolling stock or because of commercial decisions. The average delay in these cases was 22 minutes.

The remaining delays are due to causes attributable to the infrastructure manager, most of them due to problems in the infrastructure (30%) and, in particular, in the signalling equipment (23%). The average duration of these delays was 28 minutes.

By brand, at national level around 7% of Renfe trains are delayed, compared with 5% for Iryo and Ouigo. On the other hand, the longest average duration is in Ouigo (39 minutes), which does not yet operate at María Zambrano, compared with 28 minutes for Iryo and 21 minutes for Renfe. In total, 6.3% of trains are delayed by more than 15 minutes, with an average duration of 24 minutes.

Another cause detected by the CNMC is the shortage of rolling stock. Renfe has kept its fleet of high-speed trains constant since 2010, when the 112 series came into service, which has limited its capacity to adapt its offer to the increase in demand and the extension of the network. "Part of these limitations are due to the delay in the delivery of the 30 series 106 trains it acquired from Talgo in 2016."

Nor can we lose sight of an issue that determines all operations in the southern route, and which has a major impact on Malaga, Seville, Cordoba and Granada: the Madrid-Andalucía high-speed rail line is the oldest in Spain and has been in operation for 30 years. For this reason, Adif is carrying out from 2022, in phases, comprehensive work, with a planned investment amounting to 650 million euros. The works, which are mainly carried out in summer, are aimed at updating old infrastructure.

Positive signs

Having said all this, the truth is that competition in the market has had many advantages for citizens, and proof of this is that passengers on the Malaga-Madrid route grew by 25% last year, a record in the history of María Zambrano station. The highest growth was in Barcelona (95%) and Valencia (83%), followed by Alicante (50%), while Zaragoza (20%) and Seville (11%) are below.

Another issue is price. On routes where competition started in 2022 and already includes three operators and four commercial brands (Avlo belongs to Renfe), the average reduction reaches 40%. Meanwhile, in the southern route, where the entry of competition is more recent and there are two companies competing (with three commercial brands), the reduction is between 10% and 24% depending on the routes. With these calculations, there is still much room for improvement, which will coincide with the arrival of Ouigo in Malaga, scheduled for after the summer.

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